adventure


buster0828I thought we’d lost her yesterday: Buster, our Russian tortoise. Lately on weekends I’ve been taking her out of the self-contained hutch we built in 2007 and letting her have what we call the “pumpkin patch,” a roughly 10′ x 4′ section of the backyard normally reserved during this time of year for any would-be jack o’ lanterns I attempt to grow.

With its perimeter built up with river rocks and bricks, the patch has proven to contain Buster pretty well, thanks to me paying close attention to the weakest exit points that she inevitably and incessantly will exploit and then strengthening them in some manner… maybe with a repositioned river rock or some stakes driven into the dirt that she can’t defeat.

At dusk last night, when it came time to move her back from the patch into her hutch, she was gone. I asked Susan if she’d returned her, and she said no. I wondered if perhaps one of our kitchen renovation workers, not knowing the exploratory nature of tortoises had seen Buster trying to escape and helped her over the barrier figuring “How far can a tortoise go?” That’s a typical rhetorical people ask themselves and the answer is “Far enough that you may never see them again.”

I’m serious. They can get themselves under some foliage, dig down into the soft earth and even though they’re theoretically under your nose, they’re just as completely GONE as if they’d managed to crawl all the way to Kern County.

My first thought was one of relief because I was pretty sure she was at least somewhere in the backyard as there weren’t any readily accessible escape routes out of it. But compounding matters and fears, said workers had left the backyard gate nearest the patch open during their time here, meaning that if Buster either escaped on her own or was assisted, she was only about 15 feet and one low step away from getting beyond the backyard into the north side yard, with its thick growth offering plenty of places to hunker down over night before setting out for Kern County in the morning.

So time was pretty much of the essence, and with the daylight failing Susan and I got busy. I stuck to the backyard and north side of the house while Susan went all the way down to the street and down the block.

You think that’s silly? Then check out my account below of an escape she made back in 2004. The use of “Miracle” in the headline is NOT an exaggeration.

Long story cut short: There was much rejoicing and relief when I found Buster still in the backyard, instead of going out the open gate she made a left and crawled under the potting table among a half-dozen or so brown widow spiders, wedging herself against the outside of the kitchen wall.

Maybe she was interested in the renovation’s progress.

Halloween 2013

For the number of trick-or-treaters we get some might argue that the spooky yard we create is not worth the several initial hours of extraction from the basement and set-up and wiring for light and spooky sounds, followed by several more hours over the days leading up to Halloween night spent tinkering and fine-tuning (and in the case of this year filing a police report for a theft of one of the ornaments). Lastly there are the hours on the Big Day spent getting all the electronics ready, carving the pumpkins, and also in the case of this year, subbing in 10 pounds of dry ice for the way-pat-its-prime fog machine that finally crapped out.

The trick is: I don’t do all that for the 70 or so kids who come tromping up the front steps seeking candy. I do it for the inner child in me and my love of my favorite night of the year.

But because I’m a firm believer in Halloween being over when it’s over, come the morning of November 1, I waste little time dismantling the entire thing back into the basement and returning our yard to normalcy as if nothing had happened… leaving only the above photograph (click it for the bigger picture) as proof, and these that I uploaded to Flickr.

 

fordHaving to take our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid (with a whoppingly low 12,600 miles on the odometer) into the dealership for service this week, I’d been meaning to write about the odd temporary malfunction that prompted the visit and what was determined (more like “best guessed”) to be its strange cause — essentially a street-level variation on the principle as to why you’re not supposed to use your cellphone during flight.

So we were coming back from our Eastern Sierra vacation two Saturdays ago, southbound on the 14 Freeway in the HOV lane in Santa Clarita a few miles from the 5, when I went to accelerate into the lane to the right to get out from in front of a tailgater and encountered no response. I pressed on the pedal a little more and more until it was all the way to the floorboard, but nothing. All systems were operating: the engine was running, the A/C was blowing, but when I’d give the vehicle gas it wouldn’t respond. Noticing a “What the hell does that mean!?” wrench icon light was now illuminated on the dash, I let Susan know we had a problem and began carefully transitioning to the far outside lane in case everything suddenly quit. But since we were on a good downhill portion of the freeway we were able to continue with the flow of traffic. It was when we started to go up a slight incline and the car quickly its momentum that I knew we had to get off the freeway.

Exiting at Sand Canyon with the vehicle idling uncharacteristically high but the accelerator now a bit more responsive at low speeds, I crawled us into a service station and stopped. After a few moments of the engine still revving in park I decided to turn it off and let it rest for a spell. Starting it back up, she revved high again for about 10-20 interminable seconds before the electric motor kicked in and all ran silently. The wrench icon on the dash was now no longer lighted. Hmmmm.

Susan took Ranger for a leg-stretch down Soledad Canyon while I popped the hood just to make sure nothing looked wrong/broken/disconnected. And in fact other than making the surprise WTF discovery of  accumulations of old-ish looking rat poop in the wells where the front suspension/shocks bolt to the vehicle — proof that our garage rats had taken to nesting/resting there (perhaps moreso during the colder months) — everything else looked fine.

Not confident about getting back on the freeway, the decision was to plot a surface-street course home via “Gladys” (that’s what I call the GPS), cross our fingers and see if we can get there. At worst if the car quits, at least it’s in a safer, slower environment where we can pull over, call AAA, and get towed.

The good news is that it worked and we arrived home without further incident (and in the process I was happy to discover the long unknown street route between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita (you know, in case I ever want to bike between the two places). The bad news is that we knew we had to get this curious incident examined.

So fast forward to this last Wednesday when I take the Ford to Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood, where I explained the above to the service manager, and in response he was curious of either my wife or myself have iPhones. I told him we both do, that my wifes iPhone5 is paired with the car via bluetooth and that at one extended point about 120 miles before the incident she was also using her iPad to surf the internet. He explained somewhat sheepishly that there’s apparently a conflict between the Apple devices and Ford Hybrids that can produce interference resulting in similar situations.

Seriously?

He explained that he’s personally seen cases involving the city of Burbank’s hybrids fail to start as a result of their operators packing iPhones. He added that Ford’s aware of the problem but so far there’s been no solution.

Huh.

In my looooong history with a variety of motorized vehicles, this was my first time hearing a powertrain problem caused by a possible “programming glitch.”

Brave new world.

Of course, he took the vehicle and put it through a panel of diagnostic tests, wherein he said he failed to recreate the loss of acceleration. The best he could do was recommend a series of software upgrades that may or may not eliminate future incidents and of course was not covered by any warranty. Oh, and by the way, I also needed a new A/C filter. Total estimate: $180. Sigh… sold.

I asked: Does the new software include a “pre-flight” warning to turn off all Apple devices prior to departure?

He chuckled.

I didn’t. And now basically all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. That’s tolerable for short city trips. But you can bet during our next longer drive there’ll be some pins and needles in the driver’s seat I’ll be sitting on throughout the journey. NOT the way I like to roll.

This behavior is not something Ranger ever learned, nor was she taught it. It was discovered quite by accident after the kids next door hit a soccer ball over the fence into our yard. When I found the ball, for whatever reason, I arc’d it over in Ranger’s general direction and holy wowzers she proceeded to use her muzzle to line drive it directly back to me.

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One time… two times… could happen to any dog, right? Well, we all know Ranger isn’t any dog. As if to prove it, she tossed it back to me practically every time I tossed it to her. We’ve had streaks of 20 or more, from as far as 10 feet between us.

Now, “toss” isn’t really what she’s doing. She isn’t even doing what trained seals do and bouncing it back off her nose soccer-style. What she’s trying to do is catch the ball in her mouth, but since it’s too big to fit in her jaws what happens instead is an uncannily precise return to sender.

The trick is, it’s all on me. Pretty much her rebound shot is entirely dependent upon how nice a lob I send her way. If it’s near perfect, the ball will most often come back through the air either directly to me or at least within my reach. And by the time I catch it, Ranger’s already poised and ready for me to send the next one here way.

The following link takes you to a snippet of crappy video from a lousy camera, but you get the idea — and you can bet I’ll be setting up a better cam to capture it next time we: Play Ball!

While getting some video of Buster our Russian Tortoise enjoying today’s breakfast featuring her first nomtastic hibiscus bloom of the spring, into the frame fluttered by a local butterfly to say hi (click it for the bigger picture):

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Or here’s a slo-mo looping file I created of the entire moment:

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At 6AM during our dog walk, while proceeding northbound on Parkman toward Marathon, from the east side of the street we observed the first of two coyotes heading southbound across the street coming up behind an unaware woman walking her small pug on-leash.

I intercepted the coyote before any contact occurred and ran after it to Marathon where it stopped in the middle of the street midway up the hill to the east between Parkman and Occidental:

 coy1

The second animal, identified as the previously seen “special needs” coyote by its noticeable head tilt and awkward gait, was then found by Susan and Ranger in the yard of a residence on the east side of Parkman between where the first coyote was encountered and Marathon. After flushing it from the foliage it observed us momentarily before proceeding southbound on Parkman toward Bellevue:

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Concurrently, the first coyote came westbound on Marathon, crossed Parkman and then Silver Lake Boulevard and was last seen on Marathon heading up the hill west of Vendome.

Sure, it’s that first day of the fourth month of the year, but I guarantee you the below image, captured by my motion-triggered  front steps cam this morning, is no April Fools Day prank (click it for the bigger picture):

coyote1

It just happens to coincide with the time of year when the coyotes are increasingly out and about and at their most brazenly nonchalant in dropping by and looking for something to eat.

We saw this fellow again walking down  in the middle of the street as if he owned it just as Susan was heading out for work a few minutes after 8 a.m. It looked up at us and just kept on going without so much as a twitch or a start.

It’s a coyote’s world, we just encroach upon it.

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